2007 Detroit Auto Show: Chevrolet Gives New Malibu Style and Refinement
The official reveal of the new Malibu is a few days away at the 2007 North American International Auto Show, but GM has released first pictures and details. The 2008 Chevrolet Malibu sedan looks to be a solid step forward from the current car, though a five-door Maxx model is not part of the new range. The new look of Malibu ushers in Chevy’s latest family look, but owners will most appreciate the powertrain and interior updates.
VehicleVoice and AutoPacific staffers believe that the new Malibu may be one of the most significant new launches of 2008.
EDITOR’S NOTE – Counterpoint – 2008 Malibu Finally Gives Credit to Chevy Buyers
To be perfectly honest, the 2004 to 2007 Malibu is a homely piece of work. Its dull styling guaranteed that its primary buyers would be fleets looking for the lowest common denominator, cheapest vehicle. While the sedan was homely, the 5-door was ghastly. Good concept based on the European Opel/Vauxhall Signum, Maxx (and Malibu) could have had very appropriate European styling, but for some reason GM’s American management gave American buyers very little credit for taste. Hence the old Malibu and Maxx were designed for the lowest common denominator buyer. The 2008 Malibu promises to change the game.
Back in 2003 (2004 model year), Chevrolet moved the Malibu to the Epsilon platform and added the longer-wheelbase Maxx five-door hatchback. Chevrolet sold roughly twice as many sedans as five-doors, and the Maxx’s odd shape wasn’t well accepted by critics. The 2008MY sedan gets the same 112.3-inch wheelbase the hatchback had used, also the same as platform-mates Pontiac G6 and Saturn Aura. This platform is referred to as Epsilon 2 and is a significant enhancement of that under the 2004-2007MY Malibu.
New Engines Promise Stronger Performance
Dropping the OHV V6 and updating the base I4 will give the model stronger performance at all trim levels and a more refined optional engine. Instead of a 144HP 2.2L I4, all levels of Malibu will be standard with a 164HP 2.4L DOHC 16v I4. The 252HP 3.6L DOHC 24v V6 is optional for LT and LTZ models. When the I4 is fitted in the LS and LT, it gets a four-speed automatic transmission. But in the LTZ, it gets the V6’s six-speed automatic transmission. The six-speed gets a self-shift feature and steering-wheel-mounted controls.
The new powertrain options give Malibu a performance and refinement boost. The 164HP I4 and 252HP V6 give Malibu performance numbers they can brag about. For 2007MY, Malibu offered a 240HP SS model and a 217HP V6, but the 3.6L V6 is more refined and efficient as well as more powerful and Chevy expects the I4 to continue to be part of their 30-mpg-highway-or-better club.
Interior Goes Upscale
GM of late has significantly improved its interiors, and these changes are getting into the hands of consumers in new 2007MY and 2008MY products. Malibu is no exception. It will be offered with four interior color schemes, including three two-tone options and one all ebony. Some interiors get wood trim, others chrome accents. The two-tone setup provides even the base interior a stylish atmosphere. The top LTZ model gets a specific instrument layout, black chrome accents, and two-tone leather seats. As is becoming an industry trend, ambient lighting gives a more inviting interior, including overhead console LED floodlights. The LED overhead lights in particular will make for a nicer environment for nighttime driving, emitting a soft light into the cabin to make it more comfortable. Like the Pontiac G6 and Saturn Aura, Malibu will offer the four-panel panoramic sunroof.
Another EDITOR’S NOTE – Interior a Strong Point
Based on previous reviews of the new Malibu interior, the interior now becomes a benefit rather than a detriment. Finally, General Motors is recognizing the value of an upscale interior even in its mainstream sedans and Malibu, like the Saturn Aura, moves into a position where it can challenge the Ford Fusion in interior execution.
In the safety department, there will be a full complement of standard airbags, four-wheel disc brakes and ABS, and traction control. StabiliTrak will be standard for LT and LTZ models. StabiliTrak is also now enhanced with an emergency braking assist, something GM is a little slow in adding.
Malibu Should Hold its Own
The mid-size sedan market is highly competitive, as is the industry as a whole. Chevy will take on the Ford Fusion, Dodge Avenger, Mazda 6, Kia Optima, Subaru Legacy, and Volkswagen Jetta. Many of these entries are fresh or all new, but Chevy looks to have updated Malibu in all the right areas. Improving interior and powertrain are the areas customers notice first and longest. Malibu’s styling updates freshen the vehicle and enhance its Chevrolet personality with a bold face and stylish profile.
We wonder, though, about the loss of the Malibu Maxx. Chevy sold half as many hatchbacks as sedans, but over the years it was available that still meant 60,000 buyers in 2004, nearly 69,000 in 2005, and about 51,000 in 2006 (sedan sales fell by a similar number in 2006). So why did GM decide the Maxx was a failure?
GM doesn’t have money to burn and needs to be careful on new-product investment, but walking away from a product that more than 50,000 Chevy customers took home annually only leaves a gap for others to fill. Losing the five-door will not cost Malibu all 50,000 annual potential Maxx buyers, but it will mean lower volumes for the Malibu nameplate and means that Chevy will have to work harder to keep those buyers in the showroom.